WASHINGTON — John Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy for climate change, said on Thursday he would travel to China next week to restart global warming negotiations between the world’s two largest polluters.
Mr. Kerry’s trip will mark the first climate discussions between the United States and China since August, when Beijing cut off talks in anger after Nancy Pelosi, who was House speaker at the time, visited Taiwan. The talks come as the highest global temperatures ever recorded, driven by the burning of fossil fuels as well as the climate pattern El Niño, bake both nations and much of the planet.
“We need genuine cooperation,” Mr. Kerry said in an interview. “China and the United States are the two largest economies in the world and we’re also the two largest emitters. It’s clear that we have a special responsibility to find common ground.”
The trip to China would be Mr. Kerry’s third as climate envoy. It follows visits by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen aimed at stabilizing the uneasy relationship between Washington and Beijing. Mr. Kerry said he planned to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, and other officials “at the highest levels” during the week of July 16.
China and the United States are also the two largest investors in clean energy. Their policies have an outsize impact on whether the world will avert the worst consequences of global warming.
Yet there are deep divisions over the speed at which each country should stop the fossil fuel emissions that are dangerously heating the planet.
Republicans, who have been critical of Mr. Blinken’s and Ms. Yellen’s travel to China, denounced Mr. Kerry’s trip and accused him of undermining the United States.
“Despite not being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, John Kerry is still negotiating with the Chinese Communist Party to push a radical Green New Deal agenda detrimental to American interests,” Representative James Comer, Republican of Kentucky, said in a statement. He accused Mr. Kerry of making “closed-door deals” with the Chinese.
Next Thursday, Mr. Kerry is scheduled to appear before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs oversight panel.
The United States under President Biden has pledged to cut emissions roughly in half by 2030. The Inflation Reduction Act passed by Congress last year invests at least $370 billion in wind, solar and other clean energy. Combined with tougher pollution limits on tailpipes and smokestacks proposed by Mr. Biden, the law could put the U.S. within striking distance of its goal.
China’s emissions continue to grow but Xi Jinping, China’s president, has said it will peak its carbon pollution by 2030 and then stop adding it to the atmosphere altogether by 2060. China burns more coal than the rest of the world combined. Last year it approved more new coal power plants last year than any time in the last seven years.
But scientists warn that industrialized nations must make a sharp turn away from fossil fuels now, to avert the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.
Mr. Kerry said he intended to urge China to accelerate its phase-out of coal, to combat deforestation and issue a plan to reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that leaks from oil and gas wells. Those are issues China said it would address under a 2021 joint agreement with the United States that so far has not been implemented.
“We’re really looking for some specific actions that are going to move the ball here,” Mr. Kerry said. “If we can’t get China to work with us very aggressively to deal with this challenge, we all have a bigger problem.”
Thom Woodroofe, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said formally re-establishing routine climate discussions would be the “crown jewel” of any outcome from Mr. Kerry’s trip.
“Right now, we’re one geopolitical problem away from ending climate talks,” Mr. Woodroofe said, noting that it has taken a year to “get back where we were” after China halted diplomatic talks on military issues, narcotics and climate change because of Ms. Pelosi’s Taiwan trip.
Of those three China has only agreed to restore talks on climate change.
Mr. Kerry, 79, and Mr. Xie, 74, each emerged from retirement to lead their country’s climate negotiations. The men have worked together on some of the defining international policy breakthroughs of the last decade, including the 2015 Paris Agreement in which nearly every nation pledged to reduce emissions to constrain average global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels. That’s the threshold beyond which scientists say the likelihood of catastrophic climate impacts significantly increase. The planet has already warmed an average of 1.2 degrees Celsius.
Mr. Xie and Mr. Kerry met a handful of times on the sidelines of a United Nations summit in Egypt last year, though aides said they were light discussions largely centered around when more substantive negotiations could restart.
Mr. Xie also suffered a stroke this year but is now “much better,” Mr. Kerry said, adding the two men have been meeting virtually.
Lisa Friedman reports on federal climate and environmental policy from Washington. She has broken multiple stories about the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal climate change regulations and limit the use of science in policymaking. More about Lisa Friedman
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